How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?

Tohoku Shinkansen E5 series run mostly as Hayabusa and Hayate. These trains have only reserved seat. You cannot take this train without seat reservation.
Tohoku-Hokkaido Shinkansen Hayabusa has only a reserved seat car. You cannot take this train without a seat reservation.

When you take Shinkansen or Limited Express train, you may book a seat and some trains require you a seat reservation. Though some of the express train have a non-reserved seat, you should book a reserved seat if you can. If you use JR Pass, Hokkaido Rail Pass, JR East Pass, Tokyo Wide Pass, Sanyo San’in Area Pass and Kyushu Area Pass, these passes cover a reserved seat fee. You should use this benefit. And also I strongly recommend to secure your seat especially in the peak seasons, such as late April to the first week of May (a.k.a. Golden Week), August 10 to 20 (It is called “Obon” which is a summer break.) and December 29 to the first week of January.

I would like to explain you how to get a reserved seat.

Before you make a reservation

If you intend to use Japan Rail Pass (a.k.a. JR Pass), JR East Pass, Tokyo Wide Pass, Sanyo Sanin Area Pass, Takayama Hokuriku Area Pass, Hokkaido Rail Pass and Kyushu Rail Pass, you MUST turn in your exchange order to the actual Pass before booking your seat. You have to show your pass when you make a reservation. Exchange order does not work to book a train seat. Once you turned in, you can go ahead to make a reservation at any reservation windows and anytime. But if you use JR Easts’ online reservation, you can book a seat in advance before exchanging an actual pass. I will explain about this online reservation site later in this post.

Where you can

Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)

You can make an reservation at the reservation office that is called “Midori no Madoguchi (みどりの窓口)”. You can find “Midori no Madoguchi” very easily. You will find a big green sign easily like the images above and below.

The logo of Midori no Madoguchi

“Midori no Madoguchi” is located at most of major JR stations. If you are in major cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo, you cannot miss “Midori no Madoguchi”. 99% of JR stations in these cities have “Midori no Madoguchi”. Some major stations have a few Midori no Madoguchi.

The signage is different in JR Central area

If you travel in JR Central (JR東海) area, you cannot find Midori no Madoguchi. Because “Midori no Madoguchi” is JR East’s trademark and JR Central avoids to use it. In JR Central area, such as Nagoya, Shizuoka, Gifu, Takayama, it is shown as “Shinkansen and JR Lines Tickets (JR全線きっぷうりば)” like image below.

JR Central ticket office. It does not have any green signage. It looks very simple.

JR Central operates Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. JR Central has a ticket office outside JR Central operation area, such as Tokyo, Shin-Yokohama, Kyoto and Shin-Osaka. In these stations, you can find two different kinds of a ticket office, “Midori no Madoguchi” and “Shinkansen and JR Lines Tickets”. But you can book any JR train tickets at either ticket office. This difference does not matter for you in most cases.

What kind of information you need

Please make sure the following information before you make an reservation:

  • Date and time
  • Train name and number
    This is not required. But if you want to take the specific train, please tell the train name and number. It is much easier to make a reservation for the staff and you can save your time. Most express trains have the combination of the name and number. e.g. “Hikari 246”.
  • Departure and Arrival Stations
  • Smoking or Non Smoking
    Smoking seat is still available on a few trains on Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen. And overnight train, “Sunrise Izumo” and “Sunrise Seto” still have a few smoking seats. If you really want to have a seat on the smoking car, you may ask a staff to look for. If you do not mention, usually you will be assigned a seat on non smoking car. If a seat is available on only smoking car, usually a staff let you know and make sure okay for you or not.
  • Passport
    If you use JR Pass or other JR passes, you always have to carry your passport. You may be asked to show it by a station officer or a conductor when they want to check it.

When you can

You can make an reservation anytime within one month prior the departure date. The ticket is on sale one month prior to departure date at 10:00am

e.g.
Departure date — August 23 at 10:00 am. Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka
Ticket is on sale at 10:00 am on July 23.

e.g.
Departure date — August 24 at 00:34 am. Sunrise Seto from Osaka to Tokyo
Ticket is on sale at 10:00 am on July 23, not July 24. Because this train originally depart from Takamatsu at 21:26 on August 23. Overnight trains are very few in Japan currently. But if you book a seat on overnight booking, please check the date at the original departure station.

Most of trains can be reserved at Midori no Madoguchi only. So you need to be in Japan when you book. Only JR East offer online reservation service. Even if you are Japan Rail Pass user, you can make a reservation in advance.

Online booking

JR East Train Reservation

This online reservation system is operated by JR East. Unfortunately this JR East Shinkansen Reservation is only English online reservation for JR Pass, Hokkaido Rail pass and JR East Passes. If you intend to use a regular ticket, you can use this site too.

This site offers a seat reservation for the trains that operate in JR East and JR Hokkaido areas. So you CANNOT make a reservation for Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Kyoto or Osaka). And also there are some restrictions. The biggest restriction is a ticket pick up. You must pick up a ticket one day before travel date. You cannot pick up a ticket on the day of travel. Please read Guide (FAQ) before you make a booking.

Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Reservation App “EX”

This app is available in a few countries only. And also this app is available for a regular ticket user only. You cannot use this app to book a seat for JR Pass or other rail passes. However any rail passes do not meet your trip plan and this app is available in your country, this is very convenient. You can book it in advance from your smartphone.

Eki-net (えきねっと)

I have received a comment from one of my readers, Tak. He mentioned me that we can use this Japanese online reservation system even for Japan Rail Pass or other travel passes users. This online reservation is in Japanese. So unfortunately this is not available for all of you. However some of my readers asked me that we can use a friend in Japan to make a reservation for Japan Rail Pass user in outside of Japan. You can do it with your friend in Japan and use this site.

This reservation system covers all over Japan. You can book for Shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka which is not available on JR East Train Reservation. But this online reservation is not available for overnight train, such as Sunrise Seto. I have received so many questions about Nobi Nobi seat of Sunrise Seto/Izumo booking in advance. But you cannot book it even on this Japanese site.

Find your hotels in 218 cities throughout Japan!!!

ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel Narita 10 min from airport by complimentary shuttle
Karasuma Hotel Kyoto Traditional tatami room

How to reserve a ticket from outside Japan in advance

As you saw, online reservation does not cover all trains. I really wish Japan Railway have full online reservation system. According to a local news, JR West will launch an online booking site for overseas tourist in 2019. I still look for the detailed information. When I find it, I will share it with you.

If you want to secure your seat before departure, you have to rely on a travel agent. This is only way to reserve a ticket before you depart from your country. It is not cheap. One of my frequent visitors, James in Australia, left a comment. I would like to share this information: I think many people here asked for how to get JR tickets before arriving Japan, I would like to add.

*JTB actually charge MORE than $55 Australian dollar($56 US dollar March 2011 currency) per ticket, in fact JTB charge $75 Australian dollar(US$76) per ticket.

The $75 came from $55 service fee plus $20 courier fee to deliver your ticket to your hotel in Japan, $55+$20=$75 Funny my ticket for SL-Yamaguchi express is only $60 therefore altogether I need to pay $135 to get SL-Yamaguchi express ticket!

So, all I can say is, if you want to get a JR train ticket before you get to Japan, make sure you are ok with paying at least $75( $76 US dollar), it helps if you really need to get on a particular train that is very hard to book or if you are travelling during peak season. But if you are not in a hurry, travelling in leisure pace across Japan, perhaps think twice.

I hope is worthy many people told me SL-Yamaguchi express is the best steam train experience ever in Japan.

Unfortunately this is only way to do it. You can find Japan Rail Pass authorized agent at JR Pass official site. They may be able to reserve a ticket for you too. But some of the agent do not want to reserve your seat. They want to book whole things, like hotel, air ticket, attraction tickets. Because it is too small profit to make a reservation for only train ticket.

734 thoughts on “How to reserve a seat of Japan Railway trains. How about online reservation available?”

  1. hi, we will arrive in Japan on January 20 and wish to travel to hakodate on January 21 using JR pass. i read that Hayabusa required us to reserve seats for the trip. Can we just appear on the station on the 21st for same day reservation? i am planning to spend 3 hrs in hakodate and then leave for sapporo. thankyou in advance

    1. Hi Jez,

      As long as the seat is available, you can book a seat even 10 minutes before the departure time. But you must receive a seat ticket. You cannot take Hayabusa only by JR pass. Reserved seat fee is covered by JR pass. So please receive a ticket before on board. As I mentioned in the post above, you can book it online at JR East reservation site. But you have to correct a ticket one day before. You also can book a seat right after Japan when you exchange JR pass. Advanced reservation is recommended.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. I saw on the news about the bad weather in sapporo that caused delayed flights. tho we are going to use trains going to sapporo, will it affect us? i am worried that we are not be able to reserve seats. 🙁 our trip is on the 21st. do u think the weather will still be this bad and we are not be able to go out and tour the city? lol . i just need ur advise- if we will still continue the trip or just stay in Tokyo. thankyouuuu 🙂

  2. Hello,

    I’ll be travelling from Nagano to Osaka on Jan 18 and hope to reserve train tickets. However, the JR East website only enables me to buy the ticket from Nagano to Kanazawa. So, does that mean I’ve to buy the Thunderbird ticket at Kanazawa upon arrival? Alternatively, is it possible to buy one ticket for the trip from Nagano to Osaka at Nagano JR station? Thank you!

    1. Hi Jacqueline,

      You can buy one base fare ticket for Nagano to Osaka at Nagano station or other major JR stations. For example, if you will be in Tokyo before going to Nagano, you can buy it in Tokyo too. If you arrive in Narita Airport, you can buy it at Narita airport station too. And also if you purchase the base fare ticket for Nagano to Kanazawa and Kanazawa to Osaka separately, the total cost is higher. You should buy it altogether at same time.

      In this case, I don’t recommend you to use JR East website. You should buy it after you arrive in Japan. It’s a low season. It’s not hard to book a seat even if you do it after you arrive in Japan.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

      1. Thanks for your advice Takeshi-san. I’ll then buy the train ticket in one go when I arrive in Tokyo. Thank you!

  3. Hi Takeshi, i am travelling from shin hakodate to tokyo on jan 6, i am holding green jrpass with 7 other family members. Out of 7 jrgreen pass, 6 ppls get green seats and 1 have to go ordinary seat since it says full on the system. My question, if half way to tokyo i found an empty seat on the green is it possible to move to green from ordinary (since i’m holding jr green pass) and what happen if they happen to check ticket And found out my ticket is orginally ordinally ticket? Thanks

    1. Hi Fong,

      Please talk to the conductor before you take a seat when you find an unoccupied seat. Please do not take a seat before you contact to the conductor.

      And also please check the availability for Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Tokyo just before on board. Someone cancel a seat in the last minutes and you may be able to get a seat. And also ask the availability for other segment, such as Sendai to Tokyo, Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto to Sendai. As you thought, you cannot get a seat for whole part of the journey but you may be able to get a seat for a part of the trip.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  4. Hi

    Should I get the JR Rail pass? I arrive July 16th, and depart July 30 (so 15 days). My stay looks like:
    Narita Airport to Tokyo (5 nights)
    Tokyo to Osaka (3 nights)
    Want to do Nara deer reserve from Osaka.
    Osaka to Kyoto (4 nights)
    Kyoto to Tachikawa (2 nights) (Do I have to go via Tokyo?)
    Tachikawa to Narita Airport

    I know that if I get the JR Rail pass, I will pay for one way on arrival day, then activate pass on the 17th, so that the 14th day is the return to the airport. Also, if I do get the JR rail pass, can I go to the Tokyo station office and book all the Bullet trains and the return NEX on the 17th?

    Thanks for any help you can provide
    Deb Mayes

    1. Hi Deb,

      Actually I don’t recommend you to use JR pass. You are thinking to use 14 days JR pass. However you cannot get the worth of it unless you have a big day trip when you are in Tokyo, Osaka and/or Kyoto. 7 days JR pass is almost same cost at Narita-Tokyo-Osaka round trip fare. But you have 7 nights 8 days for Tokyo-Osaka/Kyoto-Tokyo (Tachikawa). Even if you use JR pass for sightseeing in Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, it does not help to get the worth much.

      If you want to use 14 days pass, you have a big day trip, such as day trip to Hiroshima from Osaka, day trip to Kanazawa from Tokyo or Osaka.
      https://jprail.com/destinations/world-heritage-destinations/day-trip-to-hiroshima-and-miyajima-from-osakakyoto.html
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/1to3-days/sample-itinerary-of-day-trip-to-kanazawa-and-shirakawago-from-tokyo.html
      https://jprail.com/destinations/chubu-area/sample-itinerary-of-day-trip-to-kurobe-tateyama-alpine-route-from-tokyo.html

      If you don’t make this type of trip, you cannot get the worth of 14 days pass. You have to use a regular ticket for Tokyo to Osaka, Kyoto to Tachikawa. And you will add some local deals in each cities. Please check the following links:
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/narita/the-list-of-deals-for-access-to-downtown-tokyo-from-narita-airport.html
      https://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/tokyo-kanto-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-best-deal-and-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-kyoto.html
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-use-kansai-thru-pass-compare-pass-and-single-fare.html

      If you use JR pass, you can book all ticket when you exchange the pass. You can exchange the pass and book it when you arrive in Narita if you like.

      You may get Tokyo before reaching Tachikawa. You may get off Shinkansen at Shin-Yokohama and take a local train to Tachikawa via Hachioji. Trip time is not much different. It depends on the train connection.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  5. Hi Takeshi
    I have organised a walking holiday in your beautiful contry for a group of 16 friends in April 2019. At the end of the walking part we need to travel from Osaka to Tokyo on 27 April before leaving from Narita airport on 29 April.
    We want to experience the Tokaido Shinkansen but am aware too that it is the start of your Golden week and it will be very busy.
    1. We are in the UK, can I prebook and reserve tickets for the group before we leave the UK?
    If not we will arrive in Osaka on the previous day. Should tickets be purchased on that day?
    2. Other than the internal Tokyo subways the only other train journey we will take is to the airport at Narita on departure. I don’t believe that it is financially beneficial for us to purchase JR rail cards in this instance, can you confirm that this is correct?

    Any help or suggestions will be greatly appreciated

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Graham,

      Unfortunately you cannot book a ticket online. You may ask a travel agent to book a ticket. Usually most travel agent do not reserve a ticket but you have a big group. Please try to contact to one of the JR Pass authorized dealers in the link below. These are Japanese travel agent as well and they may be familiar with booking a ticket.
      http://www.japanrailpass.net/area_05.html#U.K

      If you cannot find any travel agents, you have to book a ticket after you arrive in Japan. You mentioned you will try to book a ticket in Osaka one day before. But I think you will arrive in Japan earlier. If so, you can book a ticket right after you arrive in Japan. You will depart from Osaka but you don’t need to book and purchase a ticket in Osaka. You can do it at most of JR stations throughout Japan.

      If you still need to book a ticket in Osaka one day before, you have to do it anyway. It may be hard. Even if you can find a space, departure time may be very early morning or very late evening. Most travelers want to take the firstest train which is called “Nozomi”. But if you try slower train, such as Hikari or Kodama, it may be easier.

      JR pass is too expensive for your trip. You may take bus or Keisei railway to get Narita.
      https://jprail.com/sample-itineraries/airport-access/narita/the-list-of-deals-for-access-to-downtown-tokyo-from-narita-airport.html

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  6. Hello,

    Im going to take a trip to Japan in March.
    I have this itinary for 2 weeks:
    Osaka – Hiroshima.
    Hiroshima – Kyoto.
    Kyoto – Tokyo.

    Do you recommend any pass or buy single tickets?
    Is possible to buy online some nozomi tickets?

    Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Juan,

      If you will spend 7 days or less for Osaka-Hiroshima-Kyoto-Tokyo, you may use 7 days JR pass. You don’t have to include the days in Osaka and Tokyo. If you will spend 8 days or more, your choice is a regular ticket. But you may use a local deal in Osaka and Tokyo.
      https://jprail.com/travel-informations/other-rail-passes/rail-pass-for-residents/how-to-choose-the-best-train-pass-for-sightseeing-in-osaka.html
      https://jprail.com/destinations/kanto-area/tokyo-kanto-area/guide-to-take-trains-in-tokyo-how-to-choose-the-best-deal-and-the-best-route-by-train-to-get-the-major-spots.html

      Online is available at Smart Ex only. Please refer the post above.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  7. Hello, Takeshi-san.

    I searched for some JR Pass information then i found your website and it contains helpful informations and of course this reservation seat for JR Pass thing. Same as YH-san commented, i am going to Hokkaido from Tokyo on February 2019 with Shinkansen (JR Pass). My trip date is on the week of Snow Festival so i am considering to take a reservation seat in order to secure whether that day will be crowed by domestic or international tourists. From Takeshi-san opinion, is it worthed to make a seat reservation during those date? And i just want to make sure if by this reservation for JR Pass user, the seat reserved won’t be charged (is JR Pass cover all cost within Shinkansen ride, isn’t it?) because it need to register our cerdit card and we there’s payment needed on FAQ of JE East Train Reservation website, just as YH-san comented before.

    I hope you can help me with clear information about this. Thank you for your time.

    1. Hi Yasmin san,

      JR Pass covers Shinkansen ride. So I highly recommend you to book a seat in advance. You have to put your credit card number but it won’t be charged as long as you pick up your ticket until one day before trip date. It’s just deposit.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  8. Dear Takeshi,

    I have questions about making seat reservation I hope that you can help me. I will be arriving in Tokyo on December 29th in the morning and plan to board the earliest Kagayaki train to Kanazawa we can take. I heard that Kagayaki train is all reserved seat so just say if all the seats are already reserved can we still board on the train without seats? Because we are really tight on the schedule and we are also going on holiday period.
    Thank you in advance.
    kind regards,
    Dewi

  9. Hi Takeshi,

    Quick question here regarding the seat reservation, what happen if we missed the train that we have reserved (I hope we don’t miss it..zzz)? Do we allow to do a replacement and how the charges look like? (I have bought the 5 days Takayama Hokuriku Area Tourist Pass, just for your information)

    Thank you in advance! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Terry

      1. Hi Takashi,

        I just looked at my itinerary, following route probably need the reservation;

        05-Jan-2019:
        Depart From Kyoto Station to Kanazawa with [LTD. EXP. THUNDERBIRD]

        06-Jan-2019:
        Depart From Kanazawa Station to Shirakawago Bus Station with [Nohi Bus]

        07-Jan-2019:
        > Depart From Shirakawago Bus station to Takayama Station with [Nohi Bus]
        > Depart From Takayama Station to Toyama Station with [LTD EXP WIDE VIEW HIDA]
        > Depart From Toyoma Station to Kanazawa with [Shinkansen]

        08-Jan-2019:
        Depart From Kanazawa Station to Shih Osaka Station with [LTD. EXP. THUNDERBIRD]

        Questions:
        1. I suppose the Shinkansen train from Toyoma to Kanazawa doesn’t allow for seat reservations and only allow to take non-reserve seat with Takayama-hokuriku tourist pass?
        2. Do Nohi bus counted as one of the reservation quota for Takayama-hokuriku tourist pass? If yes, total i will be needed is 5 times of reservations which exceed the 4 times quota that given by Takayama-hokuriku tourist pass, with that, any suggestion which are more important in reservations to guarantee the seats during our travel period?

        Thanks again for your help 🙂

        Cheers,
        Terry

        1. Hi Terry,

          1. That’s right. You cannot use a reserved seat on this segment. But if you take “Tsurugi”, it’s very easy to find a seat. It’s usually almost empty. Even if you take “Hakutaka”, you will be able to find a seat.

          2. It’s not included. 4 times is applied to a train reservation only.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JPRail.com

  10. Hello Takeshi-san,

    I chanced upon your website as I was reading up on train reservations. Can I ask you about eki-net reservations? I have already purchased our JR East-South Hokkaido Rail Pass, but when I am trying to reserve seats on ski-net for the Hakodate-Sapporo journey on the Super Hokuto 7, I am asked to enter the credit card details to pay for the reservation seat fee of 3,110 yen per seat. Can I check if this is correct? I had thought that the Rail Pass should cover both the ticket fee and the seat fee, so I am a little confused as to how to proceed.

    Your guidance on this is much appreciated!!

    1. Hi YH san,

      It will not be charged to your credit card at the time of booking. It’s covered and it will be free when you pick up a ticket with your pass. But if you miss to pick up, that cost will be charged to your credit card automatically.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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